Smaller Gulps

New York politicians have been trying for years — mostly without success — to enact regulations intended to curb the consumption of sugary beverages. We covered then-Governor David Paterson’s effort to impose a tax on sugary drinks in 2009, which fizzled once it became clear that not enough state legislators supported the measure. But New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems unfazed by that episode, opting instead to support a measure that requires no approval from the state government or even from New York’s city council.


As The New York Times reported late last month, Bloomberg has announced that his administration will seek to ban the sale of sugary (not diet) soft drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. The move would affect all vendors regulated by the city’s health department, which leaves some notable exceptions. Included are restaurants, delis, movie theaters, and sports venues, along with most mobile food and beverage vendors such as carts and food trucks. But newsstands and vending machines, along with most convenience stores and grocery stores, would not be affected by the regulation. To become law, the proposal must be approved in a series of steps by the city’s Board of Health — whose entire membership was appointed by Bloomberg.

According to the Times article, beverages containing at least 25 calories in an eight-ounce serving — with the exception of beverages composed of over 50% milk — would fall under the size restriction. This means, for example, that sweetened iced tea would be subject to the restriction, while a cappuccino or latte containing over 50% milk — even if heavily sweetened — would not. Beverages that are at least 70% juice would also not be subject to the restriction.

Reactions to Bloomberg’s proposal were decidedly mixed, with no strong ideological bent among either supporters or opponents. The New York Times editorial board came out against the proposal, suggesting that it will alienate people who might otherwise be receptive to the message that too much soda can be harmful. In New York’s Daily News, however, Jeff O’Connell counters that the effort does not go far enough, in light of current rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. What’s needed instead, he writes, are warning labels and graphic images (such as of his own father’s diabetes-related foot amputation) on the containers of sugary beverages. Meanwhile, conservative columnist David Frum came out in support of the restriction, while liberal comedian Jon Stewart mocked and denounced it.

What do you think — will restricting the size of soft drink containers lead people to drink less of them (or will a backlash lead people to drink more)? Would any resulting reduction in sugar consumption have a meaningful impact on rates of obesity or diabetes? Do you feel that this proposal improperly restricts personal freedom? Or are you grateful for measures, such as this one, aimed at creating good habits and fostering self-control? Leave a comment below!

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  • Donna R West

    This is an attack on your/my freedoms. Imagine the Mayor of New York City telling me I cannot buy a sugared soft drink larger than 16 oz. It is a ruse to think that this could be an answer to type 2 Diabetes. There are so many, many factors that contribute to this one disease.

    I have been a diabetic for 39 years. I us an insuling pump. Let me give you a scenario. What if I were at an event, I had an extremely low blood sugar and needed a LARGE sugared drink to bring my blood sugar up quickly. The mayor says, “No you can’t do that! We’ll call the paramedics/911 and let them take you to the hospital!!!” I would be taken away from, for example, an NBA game, or a NASCAR race because the mayor says, “No, we can’t let you decide your own treatment for a low blood sugar while you’re here!! We will tell you what you must do.” (Maybe someone in the crowd would have pure sugar packets that I could use.)

    This is beyond rationality. The next thing in line with this thinking…come into my kitchen and stop me from making a cake or pie. Or maybe, ban sugar altogether! Oops, this would stiffle many industries like alcohol, and other food products. Ya know…the yeast/sugar connection.

    Went to New York City as a teen on a Senior trip. What an exciting time. I won’t go back! The Mayor and Board of Health are intruding on liberties and freedoms of its citizenry. Its ripple effect would reach where I live.

  • Deb

    This is a huge step in the right direction. There is no constitutional right to drink incredible amounts of high-fructose-corn-syrup sweetened beverages. If you were at an event and needed a lot of “sugar” (which it’s not, being an artificially made sweetener), you would have to buy more than one. When I was growing up, Cokes were sold in 7-oz bottles. The sugar was real, and had a predictable effect on blood sugar. In the late 1970s cheap high fructose corn syrup entered the bottling world, and the march toward obesity even in children, the alarming rise in Type 2 diabetes among young children, and rising numbers of people allergic to corn began. The Mayor isn’t trying to get rid of it, just trying to bring some sense to people. If you want to drink tons of the stuff, go ahead, but you’ll have to buy more than one serving instead of having 6 servings in one can or cup.

  • Doug L

    I tend to agree with the mayor on this one. Soda does have a lot of calories in it. I know of several people who have quit drinking regular soda and have lost weight. Also, if you would consume that amount of soda/pop to get your blood sugar up, you would need to give insulin to bring it back down into the normal range.

  • Joe

    Do they limit the amount of tobacco a person can buy? What about alcohol? Will they be limiting restaurants to serving protein portions of four ounces or less? Desserts can only contain a fixed number of calories? Are they banning “all-you-can-eat” specials? What about fruit juice and milk? They contain just as much sugar as soda. We may think of them as “healthy” but in fact they are just as much a concern to diabetics as any other carbohydrate.

    This my friends is what you call “feel good” legislation. It doesn’t fix anything or even help in any real sense, but it allows people to pat themselves on the back and pretend they did something to address a perceived issue.

    Oh yeah, it also gives the soda companies and retailers an excuse to raise the price of their products and eliminate “free” refills. Well done Mr. Mayor, well done.



  • K Gilmour

    Indeed! Tom — Or perhaps exhaling will be monitored for CO2 emissions 
    -The entire concept is naive at best, or should I say, just plain silly. After all the information that has come out over the past few years about HFCS aka ‘corn sugar’ and regular cane or beet sugar; the evidence is there for those who would choose to start considering more carefully, what to put into their mouths and their childrens’ mouths. Although I have to laugh when I hear on the evening news about the ‘latest discovery’ in the health world. 99% of the ‘news’ being reported is something that we, who pay attention to what is going on, have already known for the past five-ten years!
    -It’s more a matter of what goes on in our own minds, than a matter of a politician ‘managing’ our most fundamental responsibilities. The assumption is that people are that stupid and incapable of looking after their own welfare as they see fit. It’s just another seductive ploy to convince the public that even the most basic aspects of our lives have to be managed by someone in the government.

    Hey froggies! Do ya feel the water getting a little hotter yet??

  • Ferne

    Maybe the mayor should also look into diet drinks. I have heard of so many who have quit drinking diet sodas and have lost lots of weight. Regulating one thing is not the answer. I am sure NYC has more pressing problems than trying to regulate something like sugary drinks. How about getting rid of drugs from the youth? How about getting rid of gangs or the rioters? Let me make my own choices and get the government out of our everyday lives. Our country is in such a mess now that the effect of sugary drinks is not going to fix anything. The way things are going we will be fortunate to have money to buy food or maybe have to choose between food and drugs. Life is not easy and it’s not getting any better.

  • Trudi Peters

    You may not want to hear what I have to say about this, but almost 53 years after my T1D diagnosis, I have an opinion about portion control. I have been controlling portions all these years(learned carb counting right after my diagnosis)and am not overweight. My A1C is usually in the mid-6 range, and I have been able to avoid issues with complications. Why can’t we take responsibility for what we do with our body on our own? I do not want the government (local, state, or federal) taking control of that which is my personal responsibility!

  • Maria

    I feel that we, ourselves, should be accountable for what we eat, drink, do, etc.., The government should not feel the necessity to regulate this. What is next for them to regulate? We as individuals should be more disciplined and know when to say “NO” to food, etc.., that will harm us. The government needs to stay out.